Beirut. So many words came to mind when I thought of this place. Mysterious. Dirty. Dangerous. The good old days, but also the not too distant days of war. I was so intrigued to visit this city, despite the reactions I got from friends and family when I told them I wanted to go there alone. But boy am I glad I went!
This city was unlike any other city in The Middle East that I had visited: you’ll see women in skimpy tops next to veiled women, buildings with bullet holes in them alongside fancy new high-rise buildings, churches next to mosques, and you can really go up to the mountains skiing in the morning and be back on the beach in Beirut by the afternoon! There’s certainly few places that are so diverse as this! Read on to uncover the 10 reasons why female solo travellers should totally visit Beirut (along with my top money saving tips)!
It is SAFE!
Beirut – the capital of Lebanon, prides itself in being one of the safest cities in The Middle East. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and the country is at peace and is not at war like many Westerners think! It does have a not so distant turbulent past though: it suffered for 25 years with Civil War (making it one of the longest Civil Wars in recent history) until the war ended in 1991, and since this the Lebanese people have been rebuilding their city rapidly.
Whilst you are walking around the city, you may be a bit alarmed to see the signs of destruction from the war are still evident on many buildings, even buildings covered in bullet holes, but many parts of the city have been completely renovated and new apartment blocks and hotels are constantly being built all over the city thanks to the economy growing at a fantastic rate.
The West seems to have such a warped and outdated view of Beirut, like there is war on every corner, but nowadays Beirut is a pretty safe place. As a female solo traveller I never felt intimidated or threatened during my time in Beirut. Of course, exercise caution like you would do in any unfamiliar place.
2. It is the most open-minded city in the Arab speaking world!
Beirut is without a doubt the most open-minded, Westernised and liberal city in the Arab speaking world, making it a perfect option for female solo travellers looking to explore The Middle East. It had such a Mediterranean vibe to it and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find out that alcohol is available everywhere and even drinking alcohol in the streets is quite common here! Beirut even has a vibrant LGBT community and is the most accepting city for same sex relationships in the Arab speaking world. Truth be told, it was such a breath of fresh air to find such a non-judgemental place in the Middle East.
For more information about female solo travel around Middle Eastern countries, head to my article Travelling solo around Arabic countries as a Western woman.
3. One of very few Middle Eastern cities that has hostels, yay!
One thing I have found a little frustrating when travelling around The Middle East is the distinct lack of hostels. It seems The Middle East is quite far behind the rest of the world when it comes to budget accommodation options for solo travellers. I love staying in hostels when I travel alone because you always meet so many interesting people (yes some of my really good friends are people I met in hostels over the years)!
However, luckily Beirut has a few hostels – I managed to stay at Hostel Beirut which was a lovely social hostel I would definitely recommend. In the evenings guests would gather on the terrace and have food and drinks and chat, or head out together in the evenings, it was a really nice chilled friendly vibe. The hostel is located in Getsemani, a trendy and lively area in the Christian part of town. During The Civil War Beirut was divided into East Beirut (predominantly Christian) and West Beirut (mostly Muslim) and you’ll find most of the hostels are located in the Christian neighbourhoods. The hostel was roughly $20USD per night for a bed in a shared dorm and was the cheapest hostel I could find. A bit pricier than your regular hostel in Asia, but included in the price was a typical Lebanese breakfast of manakish (pita bread covered with zataar and olive oil then baked in the oven). Totally yummy!
Now I’m a well-versed traveller, and even though I have lived in The Middle East for 3 years, even sometimes I feel a little reluctant travelling around on my own in Arabic countries, as they don’t seem very geared to female solo travellers and I often get a lot of unwanted attention. But that’s the great thing about hostels, if you aren’t ready to explore alone yet, you’ll always meet someone who will hang out, explore with you and show you the ropes!
I’ll be honest, at first, I was apprehensive to get out and explore Beirut alone, so on the first day I headed out with another girl from the hostel as I didn’t feel confident exploring on my own. She was only able to stay with me for a couple of hours before she had to leave, however after these couple of hours walking around with her, I loosened up and realised I would be fine alone, so after that I went solo for the rest of the trip.
4. Look out onto gorgeous Mediterranean views!
Make sure to head down to the Corniche – Beirut’s 3 mile seaside promenade located on the Mediterranean coast. The ocean views are so stunning here and the promenade has such a Mediterranean feel, it is really it is hard to believe you are in The Middle East!
Strolling along the Corniche will give you some space from the bustling city and traffic, but it does get quite busy in the evenings and especially during the weekends as many locals come to watch the sunset. If you would prefer to see the Corniche with no crowds, head there in the morning and you’ll have only fishermen and joggers for company.
Further along the Corniche is Raouché (Pigeon’s Rocks), two beautiful giant rocks coming out of the sea that are a landmark of Beirut. One of the rocks has an archway eroded through it, and boats can even take you around and through the arch.
For sunset, make sure to go to Bay Rock Cafe that overlooks the Pigeon’s Rocks and have a cocktail on the terrace whilst watching the sun go down – the view is simply breathtaking.
At the end of the Corniche is Ramlet el-Baida: Beirut’s only sand beach, which is a perfect place to relax in the warmer months. What’s more, Beirut doesn’t get unbearably hot in the summer like the rest of The Middle East – it actually has a warm Mediterranean climate and it has the nice sea breeze so you can plan a trip any time of the year!
There is so much to see and do in Beirut besides spending time on the Corniche, after all, they do call Beirut the “Paris of the Middle East”! Make sure to stroll round downtown Beirut and relax in some of the beautiful cafe’s, also also ensure you see the Rafic Hariri mosque lit up at night, it is absolutely stunning.
5. Easy to do day trips
Lebanon is a small country so it is super easy to do a day trip from Beirut to see other beautiful parts of Lebanon. I definitely recommend you to take a day trip to Byblos if you get the chance! Byblos is a beautiful laid back town, and will give you a break from all the car horns in Beirut! The town is so lovely, calm and relaxed, and you will love walking around the bazaar and also spending time exploring Byblos castle.
On your way back to Beirut stop off at Harissa mountain, 20km north of Beirut. Harissa mountain, ontop of Mount Lebanon, is a massive statue of The Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Lebanon) and has some incredible views of the Bay of Jounieh. It is a religious site for both Christians and Muslims, and Lebanon’s most important pilgrimage site, so dress appropriately when you visit. Arms open, The Virgin Mary is watching over the city: think of it as Lebanon’s version of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. It is 100% worth a half day trip, or even better, just stop off on the way back from Byblos; it’s halfway between Byblos and Beirut. If you take a local bus, tell the driver to drop you at Aldshab stadium in Jounieh for Harissa. Take the cable car from Jounieh to Harissa, which costs around £4 – the views are amazing (it is closed on Mondays though). Alternatively you can take a cab up to the top, it still takes about 10 minutes, same as the cable car.
6. See how Islam and Christianity live side by side in PEACE
Many Westerners actually think that all people from The Middle East are Muslims, which is not correct – yes the majority of Middle Eastern people are Muslims, but there are many who aren’t! For example, 10% of Egyptians and Syrians are Christians, and even in the Islamic Republic of Iran there are thousands of people who aren’t Muslim! Lebanon is even more culturally diverse, with almost half of the population in Lebanon being Christians! Islam and Christianity coexist peacefully in Lebanon and this is SO beautiful to see, especially in today’s world. Seeing people of these two different religions living in PEACE and HARMONY really gave me hope for this world, and it should be an example and a lesson for everyone. To be standing in downtown Beirut after sunset and hearing the sounds of the church bells and the call to prayer from the mosque simultaneously is really special.
7. The food
Falafel, manakish, shawarma and so much more! Make sure to try the local food in Lebanon! One really great and certainly unique place to go for food is at Mar Mikhael abandoned train station. The train line built in 1895 connecting Mar Mikhael in Beirut to Damascus in Syria was abandoned after The Civil War and Mar Mikhael fell into disuse. But in the last few years Mar Mikhael, located in the lively nighttime area of Beirut has been transformed into a lovely place to go for food and drinks in the evenings. There are really nice vibes here and the old trains are even still here!
8. It is easy to get by quite cheap here
Now Beirut can actually be pretty expensive. Transport, accomodation, food, everything. But if you cut down on your transport costs it can make things a hell of a lot cheaper. Public transport is not so good in Beirut but don’t give in to the temptation to get an uber everywhere – walk! You’ll quickly discover that the traffic in Beirut is hectic and super congested! It is actually often easier and far quicker to walk than to get a taxi or servees (local taxi that picks up and drops off other passengers along the way) if you are within a mile or so and headed somewhere in the city centre. It is easy enough to walk around Beirut city centre as it is fairly compact, you’ll just need to get a taxi to Raouché as it is too far too walk.
*Top tip!* When taking a day trip, don’t take a taxi or uber (uber is a little bit cheaper than regular taxis but it will still cost you about $40 each way from Beirut to Byblos). Even though there isn’t much public transport in Lebanon, there are public minibuses that take you to Byblos for 2,000 Lebanese Lira (£1!). They are amazing: sure they take a little longer than a taxi (the journey took about 1 hour as opposed to 40 minutes in a taxi) but they are a hell of a lot cheaper and you get to meet some locals, so I totally recommend this! It was such a great experience! To get one of these public minibuses, you can head to Charles Helou bus station near Mar Mikhael, or just hang out at any bus stop on the main road and these minibuses will just stop and pick you up if they are going in the same direction. No timetable, nothing, just go with the flow. I like this concept!
*Top tip!* There is one bus that goes from the airport to downtown, though the timings are very very limited, so you’ll be best off getting a taxi. However do NOT get in a regular taxi as they will try and charge you an extortionate amount of up to 40€ for the 15 minute journey!! Instead, use the taxi company White Taxi and book your taxi beforehand by writing to them at firstname.lastname@example.org with your flight details, date and destination. They charge 28.000 Lebanese Pounds (19$) – so half the price of a regular taxi, and will wait for you with a sign at the airport.
9. The people
Despite Arabic being the official language, most Beirutis speak French and English pretty well too (remember Lebanon was colonized by France). The Lebanese were so welcoming and friendly are carefree.
When you are in Beirut you will also come across many refugees as Lebanon has the highest refugee population globally per capita. Now don’t be alarmed or do not let this put you off!! Before coming to Lebanon I always just associated refugees with crime and poverty. However I couldn’t be more wrong. The waiter in the posh restaurant I went to for dinner was a Syrian refugee, some of the people I met at a bar were Syrian refugees, they are just like you and me and the majority of them are working and have integrated well into Lebanon. Thousands of refugees in the past came to Lebanon from Syria, Palestine, Armenia and other countries to escape war and persecution. Lebanon welcomed the refugees, who came to Lebanon for a better life, for their safety, to provide for their families. You will most likely meet many displaced Syrians whilst you are here as over 1 million of them came to Lebanon, primarily Beirut, since the war. Make time to chat to these people and hear their stories!
10. The partying!
And if you want to let your hair down and see how the Lebanese party, you’re in for a treat! Beirut is known world-wide for it’s impressive nightlife, especially in Gemmazye and Mar Mikhael. You’ll find Gouraud Street and Armenia street are the main places to hang out here. All the time new bars and clubs are opening up, and sometimes some clubs have temporary closures so my advice would be to ask a local where is good to party that evening, for sure they will know!
Important to know before you go:
- If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you will NOT be granted access into Lebanon, even if you have a Lebanese visa already.
- If you have US dollars, bring them. There is no need to convert your dollars to Lebanese pounds before your trip as Lebanon actually uses US dollars and the Lebanese pound interchangably. Both currencies are accepted everywhere, and the exchange rate is always 1 US dollar to 1,500 Lebanese pounds. ATMs even give out US dollars, and it is better to just use dollars where possible during your trip, as Lebanese pound are difficult to exchange once outside of Lebanon.
Now, convinced? Give Beirut a try, I promise you won’t regret it! If you liked my article, please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
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